The Tenth Night of Christmas (double digits, deeper roots, higher functions, richer life)

‘Tis the tenth night of Christmas. Ten. One-zero. A full and finished number. Completeness. Double digits.

In the universe of old math:

For arithmetic, we start to carry numbers when we enter the world of double digits.

For subtraction, we start to borrow numbers when we enter the world of double digits.

For multiplication, we start to carry and cross and shift numbers when we enter the world of double digits.

But for life, what happens when we hit double digits? When our tasks, schedules, and responsibilities move beyond simple and straightforward single-digit-ness? When our wisdom, understanding, and discernment must follow suit with growth, depth, and expansion?

Do we panic? Do we forget how the numerical functions work? Do we freeze, tangle, lose our way? Do we carry when we should borrow, borrow when we should carry, cross in the wrong order, shift in the wrong direction?

As numbers grow in size, the options expand. So it is with us. We move beyond the simplicity of Ninth Night living – of wake, rise, eat, feed, bathe, eat, work, rest, feed, eat, sleep, repeat.

We are now grown. We are now double-digit-ed. And so our interactions, communications, relations, formulations, and adorations must move to the next frontier of mathematical faith functions.

We must begin to embrace complexity with care, joy, and anticipation. We must grow up. We must grow out. We must grow down.

It is the tenth night of Christmas, giving us a peek of a double-digit life. View it not as a chore or weight or inevitability. Rather, view it as the culmination of a Christmas well begun, for the double-tens of St. John’s Gospel remind us that Emmanuel came to give life in abundance. Our job is to embrace it and live it.

(John 10:10 – The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I am come that they may have life, and have it abundantly. RSV)

 

 

For when it’s time to dump the butterfly narrative

 (Photo: CKirgiss)
(Photo: CKirgiss)

I am a firm believer in the power of stories to not only bring joy and pleasure (and oh, they surely do) but also to re-right things that have become slightly upended in my obstinate struggle against the fog of everyday living.

Of course there is only one Story – both historical reality and eternal truth – that redeems and transforms. But there are many stories that pull back oppressively heavy curtains and push open stubbornly creaky doors so that a sliver of light smacks us in the face and says, “You there – wake up, would you? Listen and see and taste again what you once did so deeply and fully. Best for you to exit the fog, young one. The days are sweet and many, if you would have them.”

“Trees think we humans are mostly little, flashy creatures, rather the way we think of butterflies.”*

Er. Um. Well. Oh no. Bloody bother.

Thus did a single line in a 300-page story wrestle with my curtains and doors today, curtains and doors that be heavy-hung and tight-locked for any number of days now.

Little? Flashy? Me? Oh no. Surely not. That is not the butterfly story I know. I love Jesus, so of course I will be a butterfly – meaning I will be beautiful, bright, born anew from a blunderingly dull ground-crawler devoid of all wonder. It is so very sacred to be a butterfly, yes? To change from the repulsive mundane into the beautifully spectacular? I choose that. That will be my story. (And we shall skip the oozy putrid muck in the cocoon because in my story, the caterpillar will be gently and magically transformed from one thing to another without the disgusting obliteration and grossness that never gets mentioned – too messy and unevangelium.)

Plus: I will be an intelligent butterfly, thank you, and also a deeply profound butterfly who lives faithfully and wisely for many long years instead of a month like butterflies usually do. And also who flies with purpose and grace. Because I want a better story (don’t we all) that stars butterflies-as-I-create-them, and so I will fiddle with levers and buttons and pedals and engines back here behind the tight-locked doors and heavy-hung curtains (hiding out with other Kansas carnival vagrants who also want a better story that is perhaps a bit or a lot more concerned with what others see and perceive than what I actually live and am).

The butterfly narrative is too lovely to give up. I want to keep it, but also remake it into something better, which is so typically foolish and smarty-pants of me.

The butterfly narrative is woven deep into our transformation psyches and theologies. It’s quite lovely to thus imagine oneself. We do not easily surrender our narratives. Nor do we easily surrender our illusions and schemes and dramas.

But today, the line in the story in the book in my hands smacked me right down on the ground and rattled my bones (and maybe also my teeth) and said, “I am a good story, and I thank you for loving me and reading me. But might I remind you that little and flashy is neither your soul nor your calling. Trees, my dear — trees are the thing. Think about that while you finish reading me.”

Trees. Planted by streams of living water. With roots sunk deep deep deep into Almighty love. Growing so slowly that one almost can’t notice it at first. Uncurling green leaves and bearing fruit. Resting seasonally as if life itself depended on it. Drawing life from unseen waters that flow with no end. Made of the same stuff on which Christ was hung  – which is forever my humiliating shame and also my humbling glory.

You there, the one fumbling through the days with no more purpose or direction than a little flashy flitting thing. Yes, you. The flash may be beautiful and impressive, my dear – but it is short-lived, even shorter than you know. Set it aside. Set it forever aside and instead plant yourself. Plant yourself and live.

Blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley

About that letter to Christians in Indiana: in which I look deeper

A few days ago, Jesus penned a letter to all the Christians in Indiana and any others elsewhere who might be reading (which I think might have been code for All the Christians America, but that’s just a guess – he kept that a little vague).

I didn’t get the letter until today, which makes me wonder what’s wrong with my mail service. It was addressed to me, after all. I also wonder how many other important missives from Jesus I’ve missed. I thought I had them all, but now who knows?

If Jesus were here, I’d want ask him something – after first confessing all the ways I continue to fail him, each and every day, in spite of passionately loving him and desiring to follow him closely. I’m basically a schmuck. Layers and layers and layers of selfish, petty, blechness filling up my guts, just waiting for a chance to spill out all over the place.

It’s a real problem.

Thankfully, there is also the gracious breath of God nudging aside space to fill up layers and layers and layers of my soul, meaning there is hope each and every day for yet another layer of schmuckiness to get peeled away. At least that’s what I read in an earlier letter. Maybe that’s changed (as this letter seems to imply) and I missed the memo.

This is the thing I would ask Jesus, if I were looking him in the eyes:

Are we really, each and every one of us, as hopelessly and horribly debauched as all that? I know we are each a complete and total mess, especially deep, deep down in the most hidden places, broken beyond human reckoning. But has that beautifully redeemed collective brokenness really grown into nothing more than angry, combative, petty, arrogant, entitled, and unbreachable barriers between you and the world while leaving a legacy of only damage, pain, and isolation, like you said? If so, we might as well all call it quits now because I can only assume the Transforming Spirit of the living God has fled Indiana

If I were looking Jesus in the eyes, and he said such searingly difficult things of me, I wouldn’t say nay. He sees things inside I do not.  He might have even stronger things to say. But I know he wouldn’t give up on me. At least he never has in the past. I also know that he wouldn’t strip my identity and take delight in sweeping me and everyone else into a dust pan of shame.

I know there is much too much yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly goings-on (not just in Indiana, by all account). I know that a good amount of all the yapping, carping, nit-picking, and less-than-neighborly rhetoric might be so much stinky hot air because many yappers and carpers don’t read the thing they are yapping and carping about – regardless of which angle their yapping and carping may take.

But I also know there are countless disciples and followers of Christ who are not primarily angry, combative, petty, and arrogant full-of-themself screamers whose sole accomplishment is to erect unbreachable barriers between the world and God Almighty.

I was in the presence of 50 tonight – young adults who joyfully and faithfully give up hours each week to share life with middle school and high school students, listening to their questions, attending their events, celebrating their uniqueness, and breaking down barriers.

They are reflecting Jesus to those around them. They are bringing salt and light to a bland and dark world. They are spreading the sweet aroma of Christ wherever they go. They are spilling over with the love of God and changing the world.

But their faithfulness is quiet. Their service is gentle. Their voices are soft. They do not scream and thrash about.

Instead, they follow Jesus, step by step, day by day, faithfully, humbly, joyfully. Even here in Indiana.

They, and countless others, feed the hungry, clothe the poor, comfort the broken, welcome the children, reverently serve and partake of the Eucharist, pass the peace with sincere warmth and concern, humbly refill the coffee pot again, engage in deeply personal conversations with those who are lonely. And so much more.

I know such things could and should happen to a greater degree – but still they are happening. Week after week, day after day, minute by minute, by people who aren’t waving placards or shouting platitudes or taking broad swipes but rather people who are intent on following Jesus as best they know how.

Admittedly, disciples of Christ make missteps along the way, sometimes serious ones. Our rhetoric sometimes fall short of gracious. Our actions sometimes fall short of kind. Our service sometimes falls short of humble.

But Jesus continues working in us, stirring our hearts towards his work, and drawing our souls deeper and further into his. He’s amazingly faithful that way.

Even in Indiana.

 

Copyright 2015 Crystal Kirgiss
The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any organization or institution she is affiliated with.

Inverted Psalm

Book of Psalms, 1882
Book of Psalms, 1882

Monday morning. Psalm 5.

Sometimes it’s just too early and too soon and too messy to wrestle with all the nuances of David’s lyrics. The Almighty’s intolerance, destruction, and declarations of guilt – are these really the point of this song, or merely reflections of David’s emotional circumstances? Are these things upon which to build a doctrine, or simply the cry of a creative and wounded heart? Are these descriptions that saturate all of the sacred Word, or rather one poet’s attempt to wrap in human language that which is spiritually unknowable?

God’s infinite grace, love, and forgiveness – as demonstrated through creation, incarnation, and resurrection – sweep aside all doubts about His nature.

But still there is this Psalm (and many others) that lie before us – words that must be read, chewed, digested.

On this particular Monday, I find that the verses of Psalm 5 are best considered and consumed when inverted from ancient poetic statements into modernly personal queries. Soul-baring queries. Uncomfortable queries. Convicting queries.

1. Are my prayers intensely honest to the point of groaning?

2. Do I look to God alone for my soul’s help?

3. Do I pray daily with patient expectance?

4. Do I foolishly assume that God overlooks and tolerates my sin?

5. Does my pride keep me from drawing near to God?

6. Am I truthful and honest in all things?

7. Do I enter God’s presence in awe of myself or in awe of him?

8. Do I invite God to lead me on His chosen path?

9. Are my words untruthful, destructive, foul, or falsely flattering?

10. Have I been caught in my own trap of rebellion?

11. Do I love the Lord’s name and take joyful refuge in it?

12. Do I pursue a godly life and rest in His shield of love?

Suddenly Psalm 5 is my Psalm, for these are questions my heart needs to face and my soul needs to answer.

These are questions that bring me to a narrow place of reflection, a focused point of confession, a singular place of desire –

to rely only on God (not the things of this world)

to rely always on God (not just when I am confused and wounded)

to rely wholly on God (not also on myself)

and to rely humbly on God (acknowledging my selfish helplessness and his loving grace).

Welcome to Monday. Welcome to Psalm 5. Welcome to life. Welcome to divine love.

For the chief musician. A Psalm of David.
For the chief musician. A Psalm of David.